Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From Regensburg, Germany

A note: I’ve discovered that online time on board is intermittent at best, and costs about $30 an hour! At first it seemed like a lost cause, since I’m too cheap to pay that kind of rate. Further inquiry revealed that the hour could be pro-rated, five minutes here, ten minutes there over the course of the cruise, so I might well spring for that. Posting pictures, though, does take me time, so you might not see too many, if at all, for the next few days. Posting in the right place takes even longer, so I'll have to make do. Please exercise your usual patience. More to come…

Ellie woke late, after a long time finding it hard to get to sleep last night. I woke early. 5AM. It’s not hard for me to get to sleep, but very hard to sleep much past 5 or 5:30—even, it seems, with the time change. I got up, did my half-hour meditation, and downloaded yesterday’s pictures to the laptop. Then started on the text of the blog entry for Saturday. Then went back to bed and tried to sleep some more. No luck. Then read a bit of “The Teachings of the Buddha.” Then gave that up and got up again and found the hotel’s connection to the Internet, got online, and posted the blog. This took quite a while because there were so many pictures I wanted to upload, and I’m not too skilled at the process yet. Then I waited for Ellie to wake up.

We had a pleasant buffet breakfast down in the hotel restaurant, and returned to our room to repack everything ready for our half-past-noon departure from the train station across the street. What a chore! Ever notice that the suitcases seem to get smaller every day when you’re traveling? How does that happen—especially if you’re not buying anything in particular. Ah well, we finally got everything stuffed back in and had time to spare to watch a few minutes of a fascinating report on Scientology on the BBC.

An easy walk across the street to catch our train, which started precisely, to the minute, on time. Scary. Wasn’t it Adolf Eichmann who made sure the trains ran on time? Five minutes later, we were passing merrily through Dachau… Hmmm. And here I am now on board a comfortable train, riding through a landscape of exquisite rural green fields, woods, and hedgerows, and bringing the text of the blog up to date while I have the chance.

We completed our train journey without incident at Nuremberg station, and were about to search amongst our papers for the address for the place to meet our river boat when we were accosted by a pleasant young man who had noticed the red “Viking Cruise” tags on our baggage. We thought he might be a fellow traveler, but no, he turned out to be none other than the cruise manager himself, on business in town, who made things easy for us in finding the address and a taxi to take us there.

We were soon on board and duly registered, and over a buffet lunch met up with a couple who recommended a visit to the Documentation Center of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds: it was here that Hitler staged his national rallies, to summon the sinews of all good Germans in his support. A taxi brought us there, and we were astounded by the sight of the stadium building familiar from old news reels and, especially, of course, Leni Riefenstahl’s :”Triumph of the Will.”

The center was, as promised, a detailed and painstaking documentation of the role of this architectural relic and of the city of Nuremberg in promoting the Nazi agenda. The permanent exhibition is aptly named “Fascination and Terror”, even though it’s hard, these days, to understand the “fascination” of the shrill rants of that loathsome little man with the absurd moustache. To watch the story of the spell he cast on countless numbers of his fellow citizens in order to lead them into war and genocide is to be puzzled, all over again, by the perversity of human nature. Most pleasing was to see the numbers of German museum visitors and the seriousness with which they gave their attention to this dark episode in their past.

The center was well worth the visit, then. Perhaps the best view came at the end of the carefully planned museum tour, where the visitor is led out onto a cantilevered platform, reaching out over a corner of what was to have been the vast amphitheater, never finished, where the multitudes were to gather to salute the Fuehrer and venerate the Vaterland…

Such grandiosity! As Byron wrote, “Look on these works, ye mighty, and despair.” “Ozymandias.” Did I get the quote right? Pretty close I think.

Back to the boat for a quick shower—it’s unbelievably warm here for this time of year, and the shower was a necessity—and off to the general assembly of our fellow passengers where our own leaders gave forth about the details of our cruise. Then a good, four-course dinner in the spacious dining room at the stern of the boat and, afterwards, a quick tour of the boat in the gathering dusk, and a brisk walk along the bank of the canal which will lead us, soon, into the Danube.

An early bed tonight, as soon as I have finished and saved this entry.


Another short night of sleep for me. It must be the time change. I woke at half past three and managed only to doze until 5:30, when I climbed up to the upper deck for a half-hour’s meditation. I guess one of the benefits of the practice is that I don’t lie there and fret too much when I can’t sleep. Instead of “tossing and turning,” I watch the breath. If I manage to do it right…

A good buffet breakfast in the dining room, just the two of us at a small table at the back. Very pleasant. Then shower and change ready for the 8:30 departure, on three buses, for a tour of Nuremberg.. The tour took us first to where we went yesterday, the Nazi rally area where we saw, this time, not only the coliseum-like structure with the newly-added Documentation Center, but also the Zeppelin Field where the great marches took place and where Hitler strutted his stuff before the adoring masses. You could almost hear the roar of ten thousand ghosts.

The tour led us on, actually driving into that vast, unfinished stadium we viewed yesterday from above, and then into the city of Nuremberg, where we learned a great deal about the history from our able tour guide. An important part of that history, of course, is its role as host to the trials of the WWII Nazi war criminals, where the most prominent among them were executed, and where Hermann Goering escaped the hangman’s noose by poisoning himself three hours before he was due on the scaffold. We made a stop at the courthouse,

and afterwards drove past the site of the executions. A little ghoulish, perhaps, but a healthy reminder of the history. And a challenging thought for Buddhists: is it justifiable for us, as a society, to do away with such monsters as Hitler and Goering? Is it perhaps even necessary, to purge the world of their presence?

We drove on. Passing by the medieval gates and moats that once protected the city, we stopped in the shadow of the ancient wall and de-bused for a tour of the castle, with its great view down over the panorama of city roofs.

Our walking tour took us down to one of the landmarks of the city, the Golden Founatin, now no longer a fountain but a delight of gilded fantasy. From there, we were free to wander through the market place and the old town for an hour before returning on the buses to our boat. The ship set sail, if that’s the right term for what is basically an elaborate canal barge, while we ate our lunch, and is now proceeding through a series of locks in the direction of Regensburg.

This afternoon we watched the dramatic process of raising the twenty thousand ton boat a matter of some eighty feet to reach the higher stretch of canal above.
Later, we hear, the locks will lead us in the opposite direction, downhill—the waterman’s way to cross a mountain. For me, now , a good snooze to catch up on last night, and to escape the heat. It has been unusually hot for this time of year all day, as indeed it was yesterday. Global warming, I guess.

Post-snooze: a great nap—an hour’s good sleep, and I woke feeling much refreshed. Went up to the top deck around five o’clock and was grateful to find the it has cooled considerably. Sitting at the ship’s bow, I caught a pleasant breeze off the water as we moved gently along between the banks, and the view was gorgeous: green rolling hills and farmlands, groves of trees and the occasional neat little village, small groups of houses and farm buildings and churches topped by spires or those Bavarian onion domes. Couldn’t stop taking pictures of this wonderfully picturesque landscape.

Took a shower and changed in time for the official greeting ceremony in the lounge, with free champagne! (They really get you on the incidentals here!) ) along with a brief welcoming speech in German from our Captain, translated by our friend Frank, the cruise manager, and introductions to the other department heads, including our executive chef.

Then it was time for the “Captain’s Dinner”—a five course affair which started with a cold hors d’oeuvre and led through consomme and a hot hors d’oeuvre to the etnree (I chose the veal, Ellie had fish) and a good dessert. Altogether, an excellent meal.

We took a moonlight stroll on the lower deck and stayed around for a short while to watch the evening’s entertainment—a glass-blowing demonstration which proved to be a good deal more entertaining than we might have thought. The glass-blower was extraordinarily adept and easy with his craft, and his patter was consistently cheery and interesting. His father, from whom he evidently learned his skill, goes across to the US frequently to pass on his skills at the Dale Chihuly school in the state of Washington. Despite the interest, though, we did not manage to hold out to the end, but chose instead to retire to our cabin for a reasonably early bed at 10:30PM.


Carly said...

A Danube cruise! excellent. We did a short version from Metz to Vienna.

I dropped a letter from Michael Moore to your email to save and read later.

There is also that olympic stadium in Berlin. eery site. Jesse Owens, black American hero.

Great pics, Peter. Terrific account, as usual.

carly said...

Are you going to Berlin? or Rottenburg? got some inside skinny.

Art of Outrage: Kathe Kollwitz Museum, Berlin

Kriminal Museum,: Rottenburg

excellent eatery finds, too.

no reply necessary

Anonymous said...

"Nothing beside remains" What a great poem!

Your mention of the Rally Grounds (especially the German's solemn reaction to the museum) made me daydream a little about a future in which we ourselves have some sort of museum dedicated to a great failure of our own. Bush was naturally the figurehead of the museum, but the whole affair was pretty formless in my head. Good post!

PeterAtLarge said...

Carly, no, not Berlin this time. We end the cruise at Budapest, then on to London to visist grandkids. Wish the pictures were easier to post...